My family and Other Shrubs

A heated pub discussion yesterday has moved me into to areas psychoanalytic, specifically the current (/century old) vogue for blaming your myriad personality defects, faults and disorders on your parents. Now I don’t want to take sides either for or against the lazy, self-deluding, determinism loving, cop-outs who take refuge in this argument (hubris courtesy of my father, thanks dad!).  But I have noticed in my travels through the Great World of Garden Blogging that a lot of people passionate about gardening list childhood days helping out in their mother’s/father’s/grandparents’ gardens as when they ‘caught the bug’. Are the gardens of our childhood something that we seek to recreate, to escape, or are they entirely irrelevant?


Lazy copout?

Without further ado, an investigation into parental influences on gardening preferences using Ben of Bengarden as a case study.

My mother and fathers attitude to gardening could not be more different. My mother is a very keen and knowledgeable gardener, adept at making the most of her small plot by balancing colour, texture and form. My father has a large garden dedicated to growing competition standard brambles (and nettles, and a rhododendron). If anywhere in the recesses of my super-ego lurks platonic ideal of ‘garden’ it probably lies somewhere between the two. A foliage filled thicket of fragrant flowers, with patches of debauched wilderness  giving off faint hints of ruined Aztec temples and pagan grottoes. Could this be a legacy of my formative years? Or have I just described the quintessential English garden; cottage style garden planting with a nod towards the romantic style?


Platonic ideals

Inconclusive. On to plant fetishes and phobias.

My mother and I both generally dislike variegated plants (particularly garish Euonymus sp. and the dreaded Aucuba japonica) however we both dislike looking at vomit, and would not consider that an inherited trait. We also like flowering climbers, autumn colour and ferns, but then who doesn’t? My father and I have never really discussed plants, but we do share a passion for carving tree stumps into anatomically correct phallic totems, this however has no place in a psychoanalytic discussion (Sigmund who?). I sincerely believe that all the plants I love I have stumbled upon and grown affectionate towards of my own free will.

Is there anybody out there who can help me in my investigations? Are you turning into your mother? Has your life as a gardener been one protracted period of teenage rebellion? Do you feel the pulsating of a great ancestral earth spirit in everything you do?  Let me know.


Gardening to Paradise

A discerning member of my New York readership has sent me a roundabout request for more poetry (so moved was he by my version of daffodil’s that he has asked me to be best man at his yet to be announced, scheduled, planned or proposed wedding*).

Unfortunately my creative pores have ceased to weep, so we shall have to make do with a little bit of William Blake writing on his garden (or at least I think he was writing about his garden, what else could provoke such emotion in a grown man?).

When I first married you, I gave you all my whole soul,

Thought that you would love my loves & joy in my delights,

Seeking for pleasures in my pleasures O Daughter of Babylon,

Then thou wast lovely, mild and gentle, now there art terrible,

In jealousy & unlovely in my sight, because thou hast cruelly,

Cut off my loves in fury till I have no love left for thee,

William Blake, Milton

Now here Oor Wullie touches on an area that is sadly neglected in modern garden writing, the fact that mother nature is viscous mean and capricious in the extreme. She teases us with glimpses of gorgeous wildflower meadows, tropical waterfalls cascading with ferns, parakeets and monkeys, and then gives us this.


Thou wast lovely, mild & gentle

(Yes, it’s my garden. No giggling. I only moved to this house a month ago and I still have a long way to go in my campaign to build a garden Arcadia. I also rent and am exceptionally impoverished, being riddled with expensive addictions and all, so I’m trying to restore this fallen Eden on a budget of about £13. More on my garden in later posts.)

It must be recognised that a love of gardening is an extremely heavy cross to bear. Blake was clearly a man gardening in dry shade and heavy clay. He felt like me the pain each year as circumstances (slugs, ill timed holidays, house parties (I believe I read some where that the Blake’s threw a bangin’ house party)) contrived to destroy his most precious progeny. Gardens have sentience, and each an individual nature, like humans some are bright, cheerful, accommodating, and helpful. Others are little buggers.

However I believe the key to gardening in an environment that hates you lies in another piece of Blake’s writing; “He who binds himself to joy doth the winged life destroy, but he who kisses the joy as it flies lives in eternity’s sunrise.” Remember that all life in your garden is fleeting, do not build your existence solely around your (admittedly magnificent) herbaceous borders, one day they too will leave you and your garden will be as barren as mine. However I took my pleasure in that sole annenomie that meekly showed her head through the cracks in my patio, I let her wither and I moved on, I had a Barbeque. That my dears is how my poor gardening and rubbish soil has lead me to write this from a paradise of eternal sunrise.

*To all interested parties, I make an amazing best man and come replete with a comprehensive catalogue of amusing anecdotes, horticultural and otherwise. For bookings please contact me via the replies screen.


William Blake - Gardening in poor soil


And do Gardeners Dream of Electric Sheep? (or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love GM.)

Following yesterday’s revelation that the space garden is now within touching distance I thought it appropriate that today’s post be an investigation into the gardens of the future.

Now a lot of people (particularly in the gardening blogosphere) envisage the garden of the future as a completely organic and carbon neutral wonderland, where small allergy-free children can gaily frolic with Arcadian nymphs (and all shall have prizes). An admirable sentiment, and deserving of applause. However has anyone stopped to ask the children what they want? I have, and they want space monsters. So with out further ado I give the garden of the future.

Firstly, my garden will be based around a solar-powered-rainwater-collecting-mega-supertree. Like the ones designed here for a new community garden in Singapore.


City living

The super tree will dominate the skyline of Putney, proudly rising above the municipal housing and local churches, neighbours will complain and dynasties will fall, but it’s solar power generating so I will have the backing of the right thinking majority. At the top of my 20 story mega-tree (or monstrosotree) will be that Putney staple, the outdoor dining set. However this will be a living dining set, genetically modified to fit 8 of my closest friends, some wine and a loaf of foccacia, while still producing leaves and oxygen, never again will I have to climb over the neighbours fence to find an attractive centre piece for my table! I will email the scientists and get them to engineer me leaves with fantastic autumn colour, all year round. Visit to find more about space age living furniture.


GM for the smallest room

These innovations are set to change our cities and gardens forever. Do not think of them as evil but learn to love and embrace them, yes Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster were scary at first, but now see the joy they bring to millions every Halloween. The world is in a mess and climate change is undeniable, but that does not mean that we as gardeners have to revert to Luddite fantasies of small holdings and vegetable patches. Gardens have always been a canvas for romantics and dreamers to live out their fantasies. My fantasy unfolds 100ft above the southwest London on a biotable, who here will stand between a man and his dreams?


Is There Gardening on Mars?

I know that everyone reading this will have had a childhood dream; some of you may even have shared mine, to be a Space Gardener! So you will all know the pain of realising that you will never, ever, ever, accomplish the one thing that could have made your life worthwhile. I finally acknowledged that I would never be a 0G horticulturalist at the age of 18 on the first day of my degree (BA, History). Some sort of internal spark fizzled out in me that day and I though it would never return. Well… its back!!!

O.K its not really being a space gardener but it is as close as I think we (/I) can hope to get. A satellite to tell you whether you plants need watering, certainly beats going outside and checking. I can guarantee that the interminable debate over chemical pesticides VS organic controls will be halted forever when we can simply blast aphids with laser beams from space. Their aint no halting science.


Garden Style

As a Garden Blogger I’m naturally on close terms with a lot of the UK’s top models and celebs, and these enchanting butterflies are always saying to me; ‘Ben, I’d love to spend more time in my garden, and god knows I need to, but I don’t know what to wear.’

Oh you pretty things, fear no more, here is the definitive guide on what to wear and what not wear in your garden.

rod mel

Melida, the flower that burned too bright

Firstly, don’t dress to bright! Melinda Messenger is constantly whinging on to me that her fantastic Frank Lloyd-Wright inspired prairie garden is not given the attention it deserves. Well no wonder Melinda! No one can bloody see it, tone down the colours, tone down the smile and your garden will shine.



Now this young model has got the idea, simple clothing in simple colours, I often wear something very similar myself when I’m mowing the lawn, however I’m experienced enough to have more than one outfit for the garden, if you’re a model buying your first gardening outfit do not make it this one! Think about when you have to prune the Pyracantha

If your planting roses don’t stand in the hole when the press come round, you’ll look like a wally.

rod garden

Rod - stood in a hole?

Finally, think about a moustache. These guys have the right idea, simple colours, just the right amount of flesh on display, and all stood on level ground, but its the moustaches that really make them gardeners.


Chelsea first XI


Billy Hayes – Felled by the Cost of Trousers?

I mentioned last week that I was waiting for my daffodils, they have finally arrived and as such I have agreed to release all my hostages. As the weather has now turned I will be sending Billy Hayes the bill for a new pair of silk trousers, I would encourage anyone in similar situation to do the same (link).


The Tree Ogham

As a Garden Blogger, people often ask me, ‘Ben, how do I make a Sacred Ogham Stick?’ normally I laugh if off, tell them that they’ve got Garden Bloggers and Semi Mythical Dark Age Celtic Druids mixed up again. But as it’s raining and I can’t do anything to the leaf mould, I think a brief diversion into the woollier side of garden theory may be in order.

According to its devotees the Tree Ogham was a Celtic alphabet, with each letter symbolised by a specific tree. The alphabet is made up of 20 trees from birch (representing re-birth, new journeys and change) to yew (representing death, the never ending cycle and access to the spiritual realms). The Tree Ogham not only represents a means of communication between members of Celtic tribes – but is also a means of communicating with trees themselves, allowing the devotee to form a spiritual link with the tree, this is done using an Ogham Stick. I shall now tell you how to make an Ogham Stick.


Hawthorn, embodyment of love, the heart and cleansing

  • ‘Make each stick as you make contact with each tree. If you find a recently cut branch that you can cut you stick from, that is good, but do not use old wood that is lying around under the tree. It is important that the stick has the vibrational essence of the tree contained within it, and so it is better to ask the tree for a stick. Truly listen to the trees response. If you feel a strong sense of no, you won’t be able to cut, but be patient, you might be led to where there is recently cut wood, or try another tree on another day.’
  • ‘Remember always to thank the tree and to treat the tree with love and respect. This attitude has a clear positive effect on both the trees and ourselves and helps to build a bond of friendship.’
  • ‘With the secatuers, cut a straight piece of wood about 1cm in diameter and 8-10cms long… leave it outside for a week or two to dry out. Then shape it, carve it, sand it, whatever you decide to do, the Ogham symbol [for the tree that it came from] may be carved on inked or painted’

Elder, transformation and regeneration, 'the wisdom of an elder'

There you go, you have now made an Ogham stick and you are ready to begin communicating with the trees. Just hold the stick and do what comes naturally. Enjoy.

All information and quotes come from Glennie Kindred’s The Tree Ogham (ISBN 0-9532227-2-1). Believe in Oghams or not, it is a book well worth having purely for the wonderful author-drawn illustrations.

Next time I design a garden the trees themselves are going to have just as much input into where they are positioned as the client, (especially the very sexy hawthorn tree).

As a final point, a comparison between Glennie and Addison’s (see below) views on deforestation, how times change. Try to guess whose is who’s, a free daffodil bulb to the first correct answer.

  1. ‘Their [the trees] supreme gift, the air we breathe, needs the greatest recognition of all. We have come a long way from the Celtic tribal understanding that everything is interconnected, and all of life is in a delicate balance. The earth is sick, the air is bad, the water is polluted, the trees are dying, and yet the industrial and chemical madness runs barely checked.’
  2. The increase in forest trees does by no means bear a proportion to the destruction of them, insomuch that in a few ages the nation may be at a loss to supply itself with timber sufficient for the fleets of England.

Addison on Garden Designers

Addison of the Spectator writes on August 20, 1714:

Every station in life has duties which are proper to it. Those who are determined by choice to any particular kind of business, are indeed more happy than those who are determined by necessity; but both are under an equal obligation of fixing on employments, which may be either useful to themselves, or beneficial to others: no one of the sons of Adam ought to think himself exempt from that labour and industry which were denounced to our first parent, and in him to all his posterity. To those whom birth or fortune may seem to make such an application unnecessary, ought to find out some calling or profession for themselves, that they may not lie as a burden on the species, and be the only useless parts of the creation.

Addison laments that unfortunately a fair few of those upon fate and fortune have smiled ‘apply themselves wholly to the chase or some other diversion, which they find in the fields’(killing things). However, all is not lost for the aristocratic dilettante, for there is one area in which the hapless sprogs of the over privileged may take refuge (after all no-one wants to be the only useless part of creation), garden design! Addison graciously points out that the art of planting is a heroic way of gifting to posterity, after all did not Cyrus the Great plant all the lesser Asia? But far better than this you can even do it if you are really really quite thick.

‘There is one consideration which may very well have enforced what I have here said. Many honest minds, that are naturally disposed to good in the world, and become beneficial to mankind, complain within themselves that they have not talents for it. This therefore is a good office, which is suited to the meanest capacities, and which may be performed by multitudes, who have not abilities sufficient to deserve well of their country, and to recommend themselves to their posterity, by any other method’

I’m not going to get to heavily any modern parallels that may exist (Oxford College of Garden Design Diploma, one-year course, 2 days per week £9495 + VAT). But from my observations on the margins of the British Gardening Scene, it would appear that a fair few of the people currently sitting at the top of the design profession were slipped a copy of 1714’s August 20th spectator before they decided to slide into their current niches. Thanks heavens for Thinking Gardens.


Adison of the Spectator - Suprises us with dazzling miracles


Mail order plants

Britain is in the postmans death-grip, the royal mail is on strike! business has ground to a halt and lives shall surely be lost. I personally am waiting for a bag of Narcissus ‘Golden Harvest’ ordered weeks ago. No doubt they are busily sprouting in some dark and humid sorting office, warmed by the slow composting of 100,000 bills and birthday cards. To amuse myself while I sit motionless in the hallway, I have started writing poetry. I call this Poem daffodils.


I pondered lonely but out loud

Why through my door came only bills,

When I had ordered, I avowed

A sack, of sodding daffodils;

Now screw the lake, and blow the trees,
I want my trumpet flowers please.*

If anyone high up in whatever union the postmen are in is reading this, could you please get your mates to go back to work. If I don’t receive my bulbs by the end of the week I shall lead all the worlds garden bloggers in counter strike, and no one will ever know how to make leaf mould or what garden tasks need doing in November!

*With fondest apologies W. Wordsworth.


A Gardener writes….

Being both a gardener and a blogger is a life that many of us have lusted over, to commune with the flowers of nature and of humanity, what vocation could be higher?

Well Let me tell you, its not all peaches and screen, this life has its downsides. So as we enter that slow slide towards the inevitable morning in late January when I wake up crying (autumn) its time to prepare this new ground with a couple of wheelbarrows of well rotted pessimism.

Problems With The Life of The Gardener Blogger.

1)      Muddy keyboards, it is not labour costs or libel suits that cause most GardenBloggers to go bust, it’s the price of hardware.

2)      Garden Parties, would you invite Gordon Ramsey to your dinner party? No. Would you invite me to your Garden Party? No, because you think I would tell you its s*** and that you were a ******* ****. I’m certain this is why I don’t get invited to any garden parties. I can assure you that were I to go to your garden party I’d just want to have a few beers and a chat, underneath the intimidating Garden Blogger exterior I’m just a human being, just like you.

3)      Plants, they grow to slowly or too fast and the ones you love are always the first too die.

Right that’s enough depression for one day. Coming up next. An interview with Ben of Bensgardenblog and my fantasy garden.